Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Tribute to My Wife

Written as an introduction to a family cookbook on May-30-98 at 06:27P.

Our Story--The Beginning

I sat drinking my coffee in a small café in Mexico City in an area called Collacón, on one of those days when the air clung to you like a heavy jacket. It was one of those hang outs where members of the upper middle class go to drink fancy coffees and smoke cigars, and talk about their golf game. People were milling about as if ants on a militant journey. They walked around me in pursuit of their daily mundane lives and I observed them with keen interest. Outside of the fact that I was sporting a pair of sunshades, it was impossible to tell that I was the only person on the street that didn't belong. I had managed to blend in, to become one with the culture, to become one of them. However, despite the state of contented bliss in which I was enveloped, one thing weighed heavily with me.
I remember her well; she was constantly on my mind. Every time I turned around, I was catching a hint of her perfume. Relentlessly, she was the soul of my thoughts, my focus of energy, and my reason for smiling. I hadn't known her long, in fact, I had only met her a few times, but everywhere I looked, I saw her face.
I spoke her name often in those days, Brenda Zuniga—it just sort of rolls off the tongue. She was the exact double of a famous movie star in Mexico and I was determined to fall in love with her. The fact that her father was wealthy didn't discourage me much either. I sat there waiting for her to join me over a cup of café mocha, or café con crema, and I was lost in my thoughts when she arrived. We talked for hours, and as we prepared to leave, I agreed to attend her school graduation party that evening. I remember dressing in a nice suit that evening, a Spanish style suit that resembled a tuxedo, and I looked like Sylvester Stallone. Well, I wore a pair of glasses that looked like the ones he wore in a movie. However, as excited as I was to be Brenda's date, I will never forget Juan Carlos. He was the one that stole her away and sent me home with a cut rose and a commemorative handkerchief.
Looking back, I can say that, in a way, I owe all I have to Brenda and Juan Carlos. For it was a few months latter that I stole fifty dollars from a girl I knew at church.... But that is another story. Oh, what the heck, let's tell it anyway!
I had been home from Mexico for a short visit. I had a rough time of it there. I had just been run over by a car while riding my bicycle, and I badly needed some R & R. It was while I was visiting my home church that my father introduced me to a girl I only knew by sight. She was a preacher's kid, and you know what they say about them, they always are in trouble because they hang out with the deacon's sons. Therefore, I kept my respected distance. Only I had trouble not staring at her, and then after church I had trouble not talking to her. I was worried about my reputation, hanging out with that PK. Yet, there was mystery in her eyes and I wanted to know her better. So, when the opportunity came, I jumped on it quicker than a duck on a June bug.
Our parents were involved in a church meeting, so I accepted her invitation to go join her at the Dairy Queen for a Coke while we waited for them to join us. Well, that's when the Preacher's daughter showed her true colors.
I was in my car and (let's call her Sarah, for now, in order to protect the innocent) Sarah was following in her Oldsmobile. Her mother had given her a 50.00 bill to buy cokes, and I was appropriately impressed that these folks would drop a fifty for refreshments. I thought it over and decided that it would be funny to hide her fifty and watch her search for it. Heck, she probably had a handful of them. Then when she was desperate for money, I would produce that fifty and offer to buy the drinks and let her keep the change. When you have ears like mine, you have to use every advantage you can.
That's when a fly got into the ointment. After I had lifted the fifty, (I learned lots of things in Mexico), I saw that my brother Jeb was on the side of the road with a flat tire and I went to see if he needed help. I told her brother Roy that I would be right there, and went on my Good Samaritan trip. I was only gone for a short time, but upon my arrival, I saw Sarah digging frantically through her purse and Roy standing behind her calmly sipping at his straw. Well, I arrived with my fifty to save the day but Roy gave me up like a little stool pigeon. Sarah acted offended and I suspicioned that she might become angry. So I said, “I guess that this is not a good time to ask you to marry me?”
She launched into a speech that involved her mother and the last fifty dollars they owned, but I sat down and tuned her out, listening to Roy talk about his favorite football team, the Philadelphia Eagles.
I knew that she spelled trouble, but I ignored the warning bells screaming in my head. Throwing caution to the wind, I began to fall in love with her—and even married her. Living with Sarah has been something of an adventure, to say the lest. As I think back on all the things that have happened to me like, when her cat urinated on my last clean shirt, or when we over filled her waterbed, I think of Brenda and that rat Juan Carlos. All in all, I guess things haven't been that bad. We have gone through more pets than salmon factories go through cans. We have moved more times than gypsies. We froze to death in the mountains because we couldn't afford to run the heater, and we cried when we couldn’t afford to make a cake on my birthday. We laughed as thirty insurance companies dropped our coverage in a span of two years, and all over a misunderstanding. We have traveled throughout the US and had adventures in foreign countries. On one particular incident, we found the Holy Grail—or was that Indiana Jones? Anyway, we struggled through the years I was in prison and the years that followed where I made no money. I put up with her family and all the misery they can deal out, only to discover after we got married that the only reason Sarah dated me was because I had horses! I bet that rat Juan Carlos is spending all of Brenda's money right now...
I suppose that things aren't all that bad, the other day I had a dream that Sarah and I were getting married again. The preacher says, “Is there anyone that thinks this couple should not get married?” I looked around and everyone in the building was forming a double line behind us. Now that we are in the Army and have a child on the way, I can only think back and say that I, we, owe it all to Brenda and Juan Carlos. Of course there is the story of Irma Angelica Zamorano, but we will save that for the next cookbook, The Squat and Gobble Eatin' Guide. Until then, I leave you with this word of wisdom, don't spit in the well, you might want to drink from it later!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

You Can Count on Me

Well, as promise, I will deliver to Alison a copy of When Love Calls, as the winner of the "Name that Story" contest. Congratulations on your victory, Alison.

Now, I present to you a fully titled short story that has some personal meaning to me. I pray this story will encourage your participation in the American experience.

You Can Count on Me

Fall 2003

Wendell Ingles sat in the center of a large prayer circle. His friends and family surrounded him and beseeched God for His favor and grace. They had been praying at the church for the better part of an hour and were just about to close the prayer meeting. Brother Jeff finished a lengthy and detailed examination of a Christian’s duty to serve as the nation’s moral compass and ended with, “…and all the saints said…”

“Amen.” The group sounded in unison. Jeff dabbed the tears out of his eyes and offered a hand to Wendell, who was still sitting in his chair in the middle of a now emptying room. “Brother, I really felt the Lord ministering to us tonight.”

“Yes, so did I” Wendell agreed. “I believe that the Lord is leading us, I mean, me,” he smiled, “to run the race set before me. Since the Lord has put this idea in my heart, I have no choice but to follow it.”

“To not follow it is sin, and we don’t want that.”

“Yes, thank you, Jeff. I suppose that I can count on your vote?”

Jeff stretched his hand. “I want to be the first to shake hands with our new mayor.”

One by one the church members walked past him and shook his hand, each of them assuring him that their vote was a sure thing. The men would slap him on the back and say things like, “We expect great things out of you” and “Don’t forget the little people.”

The small community of Sand Bend, a town located along the banks of the Salt Fork of the Brazos River, and just south of the county seat, Justice, began with a population that was just over 10,000 people at the turn of the century. Sand Bend was a mining town that specialized in salt and cotton, but as the years advanced, the salt mine dwindled and the cotton industry was all that remained. Now the town survived on a steadily declining populace of 3,000 people—most of whom were old and getting older. Of those who were registered to vote, only a third traditionally voted in an election year, but only if that year bore the weight of a presidential election. At best, the government of Sand Bend would ultimately be determined by less than a thousand socially conscious members of the community.

As his campaign progressed over the rest of the year, Wendell counted 200 people who were absolutely committed to him and assured him of their votes. He still needed at least 200 more votes to guarantee a victory, and the election was still almost a full year away. From the Barber Shop to the Old Salt Café, the townspeople generally stopped Wendell to offer him their support and to wish him good luck.

Wendell had been a public personality for several years. He first ran for office in a school board election. He had noticed that the members of the current school board had been seated so long that they no longer had any children who were still in school, but were making decisions as if they were still living in the past twenty years. The school was falling into disrepair and the busses constantly needed mechanical attention. The prevailing opinion of the board was, “it has worked for us all these years, why change now?” The last member to have a child in the school was Jimmy White, and his son graduated over eight years ago. Change was needed, but no one was willing to step up to the plate and take charge. Wendell listened to the community complain beyond the ears of the school board long enough to realize that no citizen was willing to commit to the problem. Therefore, he ran for school board and was elected by an overwhelming majority. Over the next 12 years, he fostered new policies and hired a superintendent that had a vision to see a small town school become a modern and effective educational force. Slowly, the school population grew as people from the nearby town of Justice realized that Sand Bend, despite its size, offered a higher quality of education. Soon, the entire county was paying attention to Sand Bend Independent School District as it began to receive awards and recognition from the state. Wendell had generated positive change for all of Justice County and was recognized for his contribution. His final act of responsibility was to step down from the school board when his youngest son graduated. The entire community begged him to reconsider, but he realized that the school would only grow stagnant if some new ideas and new people weren’t introduced to the system. He had fulfilled his purpose; it was time to move on and let someone else take up the reigns.

He considered himself removed from politics until the current mayor, David Donaldson, decided to build an enormous hospital upon the backs of the small tax base. The town didn’t need a new hospital, as Justice was only 15 miles away, and Justice had an 85 bed medical system that was perfectly adequate for their part of West Texas. Mayor Donaldson was simply making a grave mistake, but no one was able to convince him otherwise. Sand Bend couldn’t support a 15 million dollar hospital, but they were about to build one, unless someone stepped in with a voice of reason. So Wendell, once again realizing that no one was willing to be responsible, threw his hat into the ring and filed his candidacy for Mayer of Sand Bend, at a cost of $500.00 filing fee.

As 2003 turned into 2004, Wendell placed his third order for political signs that read, “A vote for Wendell is a vote against the hospital.” The signs were in practically every yard throughout the town of Sand Bend. Wendell’s campaign appeared to be a sure thing.

However, a very desperate Mayer Donaldson refused to give up without a fight. Using fear tactics, he convinced all the senior citizens that the hospital in Justice was threatening to close and that they would no longer have medical care available. Then he promised the local businesses that the materials for hospital construction would be purchased in their stores. Slowly, greed and fear began to replace reason and logic. Then the Mayer began to play upon social issues and campaigned that the facilities in the adjoining medical complex could house the only abortion clinic within 75 miles. The Mayer then decided to promise Internet access in the library that was dedicated to research pornography sites, so that the beauty of the human body could be expressed, for those who appreciate art. Donaldson also revealed his vision of proposing an adult bookstore and a liquor store. The race began to heat up.

In the last week before the election, Wendell made one last attempt to secure his voter base. His various friends throughout the community all guaranteed their vote, but that was only a total of 220. He still needed another 200 votes to assure a victory. He still had not counted his friends at his local church, whose membership was well over 275 steady members.

On that Sunday morning, Wendell stood and made a short speech about his concerns for the future of Sand Bend. When he mentioned the moral and social implications of the proposed abortion clinic and the Internet porn access at the library, the congregation shouted amen until he was proud to be a member of the church. He then pointed out that the risk of losing this election would mean an unbearable tax burden upon the property owners. Again, the church shouted approval of his position against the liquor store and the proposed pornography access and applauded until their hands were sore. After the service, he stood in the back of the church with the pastor and shook hands with all of the members, who repeatedly swore their allegiance to him.

That Monday morning, the newspaper published the results of the poll taken over the weekend. The projected winner of the election was clearly predicted to be Wendell by a margin of 70 percent. Sand Bend was not ready for a liberal social reform; Mayer Donaldson had overplayed his hand. The voters were confident that Wendell was to be elected Mayer and protect their interests.

On Tuesday, as the polls closed, Mayer Donaldson sat at the local bar and soaked his troubles in a bottle of gin. He hardly noticed when the phone rang in the distance. He only wanted the miserable election to be over. He could hardly imagine how bad his losses must be. Only 30 percent of the voters approved of his candidacy, and most of them were the senior citizens that were convinced the hospital in Justice was going to close. He saw the bartender approach him with the phone in hand. This was it. The Court House was calling to notify him of the tragic results. Just get it over with….

Wednesday morning was a buzz of activity as Sand Bend emerged from a night of fitful sleep. One by one the good citizens unrolled the morning newspaper to confirm the victory of the votes from the night before. One by one the shock and dismay experienced by each member of the community was felt as the earthquake of reality overwhelmed them all. The headlines read, “Mayer Donaldson Re-elected in Landslide Victory.”
It seems that the entire community was so certain that Wendell was going to win that only 25 people turned out to vote for him. Donaldson won by an enormous 200 to 25. The next Sunday in church, every member of the congregation expressed their regrets and promised him that they were one of the twenty five that had voted.